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JBG





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PostPosted: Sun Apr 18, 2010 8:28 pm    Post subject: Some of My Past Life, and My Interest in Canada Reply with quote

This post is an adaptation of an essay I wrote and put to one side earlier. I thought of it again when I met a woman from London, Ontario that I met at a party my wife and I were at last night. She was quite surprised any Yank knew anything about Canada. I ran across my earlier post randomly.

==========================================
I originally wrote this on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of my fatherís death (January 5, 1973), before going to Temple today to mark that anniversary. I have posted, some time ago on ďTime MachineĒ something similar on CBC.

The period of my life bracketed by my fatherís death was a period of my life marked by great promise, great tragedy, and great change. Unfortunately and sadly, I have not always lived up to that promise, though at 45 I suppose thereís still time.

I turned 15 in April 1972. While I always did well academically, I had never done well socially and that year, my freshman year of high school, was about the worst. My parents were asked to consider putting me in another school. That summer, I was thrown out of the first camp I went to after half the summer.

The second half started the more positive phase, though marked by a developing tragedy. First, the bad part. My fatherís colon cancer had started to recur, though we didnít quite know it, at least officially. Now the good part, and the part that relates somewhat to Canada.

I went to a different camp for the second half of the summer. It featured limited travel as part of the program. For the first time in my life, I made friends relatively easily. One of those was a girl. We repeatedly ran into each other and were singing the same song, coincidentally, each time. I think the songs were Joni Mitchellís (of Canada) Both Sides Now. The other was Led Zeppellinís Stairway to Heaven. Hereís the Canadian part. The final trip of the summer was to Quintes Isle, Ontario. That was my first of many trips to Canada.

After returning home, my school was still pretty serious about getting me out, but they had no grounds to expel me. My family and the school settled on my starting some activities that began before school started to see what happened. I chose marching band (I played tuba, which was odd since I was 5í5Ē) and soccer. Both went well.

That semester, I was active in band, soccer, the school newspaper and the weather club (which is why you see me on the Kyoto threads constantly). Though in soccer I was a fullback, they put me in once as forward, because the New Rochelle team was getting a bit aggressive. I scored a goal during my 3 minutes in.

During that period, I made lots of friends, a few of which I still am close with 30 years later. It was one of the happiest, most productive periods of my life. It was, unfortunately, also marked by my fatherís rapid decline and death from cancer. We played tennis for the last time in October 1972 and he died at the beginning of January 1973.

One thing I decided I needed to retool my list of friends. The problem was that many of them had the maturity level, at best, of Grade 7 students, and we were in Grad 10. The condolensce notes from the "old" group of friends were scribbled, often illegible, and written in barely grammatical English. It was almost "Internet-speak" 1973 style. Because I had not yet learned enough how to be nice to people, I didn't keep many of my then-new friends. All of these people turned out to be worthwhile but I alienated many.

One I was lucky enough to keep was someone else whose name, ironically, was "Jim" also. I met him when we were 15. I cracked a dumb joke about "the rabbi, the priest and the lawyer" or something to that effect. He interrupted, and asked if I had any pride in being Jewish. Since his last name was something akin to "Smith" (not his name obviously) I had no idea that he was Jewish. From that, we became quite close friends over the years, though mostly after we left high school and went to different colleges. We've attended each others' bereavements and joyous events since and he remains my closest friends.

However, that was the only one I really remained close friends with. When I say I have not always lived up to the promise of that period, I mean that I am not all that I can be. I am, on balance, not satisfied with the friends Iíve made since that period (with the exception, of course, of my wife). I have allowed myself to be sidetracked by petty insecurities and concerns, things that, in the long run, didnít and donít matter.

Returning to Canadian issues, I took part in an immensely enjoyable High School band exchange progam with York High School, Toronto, in April 1973. Spring was slow in coming that year (after another very mild, El Nino winter) and was chilled to the bone as the wind swept down Bloor and Yonge Street. I browsed some of the book shops on Yonge Street and read about the beginnings of the "Canadian Content" rules. Found it fascinating. To my surprise, I remembered Bloor and Yonge Street well when my wife and I visited in June 1997 (we relocated our trip to Algonquin Park; combination of a heat wave and her advanced stage of pregnancy). I thoroughly enjoyed that trip, as well as my wife's and my trip in 1992 to Banff and Calgary, and my independent trips to Quebec in 1979 and 1986 (I did not like my Montreal trip in 1976). Oh, I forgot to mention my first trip,with summer camp, during August 1972, to Quintes Island, and the Alexandria Bay area.

When I say I have not always lived up to the promise of that period, I mean that I am not all that I can be. I am, on balance, not satisfied with the friends Iíve made since that period (with the exception, of course, of my wife). I have allowed myself to be sidetracked by petty insecurities and concerns, things that, in the long run, didnít and donít matter.

If there was a time Iíd like to go back to, itís that period. Iíd like to start over and do many things differently and better.
Bugs





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PostPosted: Thu Aug 12, 2010 9:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gotta say, I was a little disappointed in your essay. I don't know what you were trying to illustrate, exactly.

I'd be more interested in your honest reaction to Canadians, back at your first contact. Personally, I find few things as insipid as Canadians meeting Americans, and all the patronizing pretension that is bound to result.

When I was a kid, Canadians had a different attitude. In the 1950ies, large numbers of Canadians started spending their winters in Florida, and bringing back some racial 'novelties' that were mostly jokes, but which would no doubt be 'offensive' these days. I remember my grandparents with this stuff, and having a mix of attitudes about it. My grandmother had picked up the idea that black people has a 'smell', which was common then. But, in other cases, they'd talk about segregation with a bit of disapproval. Nothing crusading, but there was a feeling that we had a better country because we didn't segregate people like that.

Or so it was thought.

There also was a down-grading for the US, because they didn't come into either of the Wars until late. We didn't feel the US were trustworthy in defending us, we had to stick with the Brits, who, whatever you say, weren't about to knuckle-down to the Germans, even though there were hardly in a position to defend themselves, let along push the Germans out of Poland. We liked that British gutsiness, and thought we shared it.

We used to be a 'warrior nation' in those days, not like now. English-speaking Canada really came together in World War I, as a cultural 'nation' as a result of Vimy -- go see the monument there, for a beautiful, but non-triumphalist memorial. At that time, the young Anglos of Toronto looked across at the Ukranian-Canadians of Regina, etc. and saw people they'd gladly share a foxhole with.

The last offensive, which was largely fought by a few remnants of the British Army, but more by a mix of Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and other empire troops, of which the Canadians were the leading group. (You can google "the last 100 days of World War I" and you will, no doubt, be surprised.) This is the series of battles which took the Germans to the edge of mutiny, and surrender, and Canadians saw themselves triumphing at what had stymied the British and French for three years. We felt we were something special, in those days.

In World War II. our guys were first off the beaches, and drew the job of clearing the Germans out of Holland, so the giant ports of Antwerp could supply the huge military effort to come. So, in the 1950ies, even with Korea going on, we didn't feel we needed to cow-tow to American macho.

But, of course, we were missing from Hollywood's version. I grew up cheering the same places where American kids would cheer, but I think we preferred Randolph Scott westerns to those of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and to war movies were our parents never appeared.

As I got to high school, and football came into my life, we watched Jim Brown and Otto Graham, but we didn't see them as better than what the Ti-Cats had. Our game was rat-a-tat action, ragged play, and exciting for being less planned out. But there was this disturbing thing about 'imports' always being the best players.

There came a time where I got to the try-out camp of the Toronto Argos ... and I remember, as our camp was closing, some of the regular players began showing up. I remember a big black guy, walking around in a towel, going to the scales, while we all peeked to see how heavy he was. The Canadian linemen all shuddered, because we all assumed, google-eyed, that he was a tackle for the Argos, and that we'd have to scrimmage with him ... but he wasn't.

It was Cookie Gilchrist, later a stalwart of the new team in Buffalo. The thing was, for all his size, Cookie could beat all of us in wind-sprints.

That was the first time I was really in awe of Americans.

Tell you what, JBG -- I'll tell you more if you scratch off the varnish of your presentation, and tell us what your first real reactions were to Canada and Canadians. Deal?
JBG





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PostPosted: Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bugs wrote:
Gotta say, I was a little disappointed in your essay. I don't know what you were trying to illustrate, exactly.
Granted the post was a bit self-centered.
Bugs wrote:

I'd be more interested in your honest reaction to Canadians, back at your first contact. Personally, I find few things as insipid as Canadians meeting Americans, and all the patronizing pretension that is bound to result.
O.K., here goes.

My very first contact with Canadians was my Hebrew School teacher. She was and is a wonderful Anglophone from Montreal. She taught me during academic year 1967-8 so I assume she was one of the early and prescient departures from Quebec. Next was a camper a few years older than me, also a Jewish person from Montreal. By then I was quite interested in learning about Canada. Suffice to say he wasn't even slightly interested in teaching. Maybe he assumed all Americans lacked interest.

On my camp trip to Quintes Isle, we didn't meet or interact with any Canadians. Beautiful scenery but oh well. We could have been on either side of the border in the Lake Ontario/1000 Islands region.


My April 1973 band trip, I was billeted with a lovely family in North York. When the member of my host's family that was close to my age got to talking, he told me of the low esteem many Canadians held Americans in. Indirectly, however. I asked if Nixon's remarks in Ottawa the preceding spring about the warmth of neighborly relations was accurate. He said "not really" but was in no hurry to explain. Ditto a Torontonian R.A. in my Cornell dorm.

I learned some of what I think is the reason for the reticence a bit later. On a Janaury 1979 ski trip to Smuggler's Notch, Vermont I skied with an made friends with a bi-lingual Jewish Montrealer. After he got to know me a bit, he was diatribal in his discussion about Americans.

From these early meetings, spread through the 1960's and 1970's, I got the feeling that Canadians were not comfortable on any but a superficial basis with Americans. I have since learned, by being on the Boards, that this is not an unmixed picture.

In 1992 I went on a skiing trip to Banff. The area native Canadians were diatribal, but towards Toronto and its denizens. They explained Canada's regionality and their relatively pro-American posture. When I went to the CPC convention in Montreal in March 2005 I met many wonderful Canadians. It seemed that once I showed that I had some knowledge of Canada they would talk.

I am not sure why more Canadians won't explain about their wonderful country.
Bugs wrote:

Tell you what, JBG -- I'll tell you more if you scratch off the varnish of your presentation, and tell us what your first real reactions were to Canada and Canadians. Deal?
Did I comply? I would love to hear what you have to say.
Bugs





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PostPosted: Fri Aug 13, 2010 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Do you realize how much of the experiences you describe in this segment are Jewish Montrealers? All except the North Yorkers, who stand a decent probability of being Jewish. Let's put it this way -- North York is where the best bagels in Toronto are.

I went to McGill for my MA, and I think I know a little bit about that world ... not St. Urbain, of course ... but Outremont. Montreal Jews are quite different from Toronto Jews. (Montreal communities largely come from Russia, I am told, whereas Toronto's come from Poland.)

When I lived in Montreal, it was like there were three solitudes, not two. It meant that there was no real dominant culture. There was French all around, but nothing my high school French prepared me for. The English-speaking part was itself fractured. I found I couldn't get on with the Westmount Anglos. They were too British for me ... in all the worst senses. They felt they got to horn in ahead of you in line, that kind of nonsense. When I saw Out of Africa, decades later, I was struck at how much the colonizers who ruled Kenya were like those Westmount creeps. Spoiled, self-indulgent, snobby.

But there were all kinds of ethnic Montrealers -- who made much better companions. Around McGill, this meant Jews. I hardly knew any Jews before this, and those I had met were just like the rest of us, so far as I could see, except they were more 'connected'. To me, being a Jew was like being a Presbyterian, except you never had to pay full retail.

I inherited one such relationship from a football buddy of mine, who introduced me, just before he went off to Berkeley. Danny was just finishing a PhD in political science. was really cloistered. Perhaps smothered would be a better word.

Danny was a diminuitive little guy with a quick wit, very bright, very verbal. For some reason, he liked to hang around jocks. It was from before being gay was cool, and there never was any hint that he was gay. It was more a kind of rebellion. He seemed both sophisticated and provincial to me. For one thing, he thought I was exotic ... never a bad thing ... and he knew everything about radical politics and Freud and all the stuff that was not talked about in my social world. So, at that level he was cosmopolitan, but at the same time, the only place he'd been, outside of Montreal, was New York City.

In those days, I lived in the Molson Field House, from which it was possible to watch the Alouette games, back in the days of Etcheverry and Hal Patterson. Danny liked nothing better to sit with a bunch of us savages, watching the game from the end-zone, with all the jock comaderie.

He invited me and another pal to his house, one of those Outremont duplexes, to meet his family. We went over, to pick him up before going to the game. It was amazing. They had actual Picasso numbered prints on the walls of their rather humble abode. I was knocked out. By contrast, I came from a home where Norman Rockwell was the epitome of art, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown was serious music.

Danny's mother stewed around, forcing food down us, with Danny telling us to ignore her, but it was a lot of fun. You could sense a cultural richness there that stirred a bit of envy. I remember, as we left, the three of us off down the road, Danny's mother yelling from the balcony ... "Danny, you forgot your svetter ..." It was about 80 degrees out.

As I write this, I can still hear her call, complete with the accent. If Woody Allen had had that experience, he'd have put that scene in Annie Hall.

To return to my point, after all this nostalgia ... you have had a very selective exposure to Canada, particularly English Canada. Jewish Montreal is not the normal Canadian reality. No wonder you are so complementary.

I guess what I have been pushing you towards is the stupid part of the Canadian national psyche -- if there is such a thing as a national psyche. I'll pick up on this tale, and continue my story on coming to grips to the giant to the south, if you're interested.
JBG





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PostPosted: Fri Aug 13, 2010 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bugs wrote:
To return to my point, after all this nostalgia ... you have had a very selective exposure to Canada, particularly English Canada. Jewish Montreal is not the normal Canadian reality. No wonder you are so complementary.
Thanks for reading.

My exposure to Montreal Jews was entirely in the States, not in Montreal, as was my exposure to the Residence Advisor, a Toronto Jew. Aside from my description of my Hebrew School teacher, my writeup was not complimentary. That is, until I met more "typical" Canadians at the CPC convention in Montreal in 2005 (I met no Montrealers there, except one expat from Montreal to Ottawa).

I did omit meeting a Canadian couple who visited Fort Lee, New Jersey to sell the contents of one of their fathers' apartments. I found my more positive experiences with Canadians in meeting that couple, meeting the people at the CPC convention and meeting skiers in Alberta. What I learned from the latter set of expereinces was why Canadians often dislike Americans. I find it interesting and stimulating to meet people from another country. Despite superficial similarities there are major differences and G-d bless them.

Bugs wrote:

I guess what I have been pushing you towards is the stupid part of the Canadian national psyche -- if there is such a thing as a national psyche.
Please explain.

Bugs wrote:

I'll pick up on this tale, and continue my story on coming to grips to the giant to the south, if you're interested.
Please do.

P.S. Did I keep my side of the "bargain?
Bugs





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PostPosted: Sat Aug 14, 2010 8:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I don't want to badger you, but you seem distant from what you write. You give us a list with nothing about your reactions to these scattered meetings. In a way, it seems like you think Canada is a different culture ... like Mexico ... that somehow just plopped down here.

Maybe. The way I see it, Canada and the US share a common civilization, but it's divided into different states. We are part of you. Our struggles are your struggles. All our institutions, and political notions, in both countries, came out of the English Civil Wars, one way or another. We are different, but in the way that the mid-west is different from Califonia.

The biggest historic difference is America's encounter with slavery. (Even there, 50,000 Canadians fought with the North in the Civil War.)

Other than that, Canadians feel that they are Americans, culturally speaking. People like me don't like people assuming that we come from England. Fuck England. It's not that we hate England, or think of it as our oppressors, but I never felt so North American as when I was in England.

We share the same culture, although ours is (now) a kind or reservation, a sand-lot culture where we get a chance to prepare for the bigs. But the truth is, Canadians expect a seat at the table in Hollywood ... and maybe even Nashville because we've always had it. We feel we have the same legal rights as Americans, and so on -- even though it palpably untrue.

I think part of the problem we're having is you're a New Yorker, and when I say that, I invite you to contemplate that famous Shel Silverstein cover of the New Yorker magazine, that illustrates how New York sees the rest of the country. Or the scenes in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen is in California. Or Wisconsin.

Well, Canada is one more of those places in the hinterland. A different kind of Southerner, put it that way. (I pick the south because I like it a lot.) Except that the New Yorker's contempt for the south is inverted when it comes to Canada, probably because we opted for a welfare state back in Trudeau's time. New Yorkers like that, think of it as 'enlightened'.

To back up my claim, consider this. The hottest 'nationalists' in Canada, outside of Quebec, are the left, the members of the NDP and the fringes beyond. If you get them in a discussion, the anti-Americanism just pours out of them. Pours.

But you know where they get it? From American professors on campuses, and American websites, etc. It's something they feel they have to teach us. In fact, they are parroting the line of the American left, and they yearn for draft cards to burn. When America started down the path of 'affirmative action', the Canadian left forced us down the same path -- even though we had no 'black problem'. That's how nuts it is.

I think if you were from Indianapolis, or Chicago, or Cleveland, you'd be more likely to understand what I am saying. New York is not really a part of America, is it? It's better than that, and it seems to me that it stands in judgement of America. You want Canada to be better than that too. And it isn't.

Of course, I am generalizing, and my experience is limited. I wish I could show you the Canada I know, a place where the losers in all the world struggles of the 20th century come when the barbed wire starts going up ... and somehow, make more of themselves than they ever could have back in Poland, or Holland, or the Ukraine, or Italy ...

Just like America.

Tell me where I am hitting and where I'm missing.
JBG





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PostPosted: Mon Feb 14, 2011 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bugs wrote:
Well, I don't want to badger you, but you seem distant from what you write. You give us a list with nothing about your reactions to these scattered meetings. In a way, it seems like you think Canada is a different culture ... like Mexico ... that somehow just plopped down here. Maybe. The way I see it, Canada and the US share a common civilization, but it's divided into different states. We are part of you. Our struggles are your struggles. All our institutions, and political notions, in both countries, came out of the English Civil Wars, one way or another. We are different, but in the way that the mid-west is different from Califonia.
From what I've read over the years, there are major differences between America's myth of individualism and Canada's myth of a cooperative, survival-oriented culture. Both are not entirely true, but there is a huge difference in national mythology. Also, Americans of either the far left or far right are likely to agree that government is the enemy; quite the opposite in Canada. There is less similar than meets the eye.
Bugs wrote:

The biggest historic difference is America's encounter with slavery. (Even there, 50,000 Canadians fought with the North in the Civil War.)
Canada had slavery too, and Canada traded with the Confederacy. In fact the risk that the Canadian trade would draw Britain into the Civil War was one of the impetuses for Britain to declare Canada independent.

Bugs wrote:
Other than that, Canadians feel that they are Americans, culturally speaking. People like me don't like people assuming that we come from England. Fuck England. It's not that we hate England, or think of it as our oppressors, but I never felt so North American as when I was in England.
Last I checked your'e still a constitutional monarchy and the Queen's picture is still on the $20.

Bugs wrote:
We share the same culture, although ours is (now) a kind or reservation, a sand-lot culture where we get a chance to prepare for the bigs. But the truth is, Canadians expect a seat at the table in Hollywood ... and maybe even Nashville because we've always had it. We feel we have the same legal rights as Americans, and so on -- even though it palpably untrue.
You're kidding, aren't you?
Bugs wrote:

I think part of the problem we're having is you're a New Yorker, and when I say that, I invite you to contemplate that famous Shel Silverstein cover of the New Yorker magazine, that illustrates how New York sees the rest of the country. Or the scenes in Annie Hall, where Woody Allen is in California. Or Wisconsin.
I am one New Yorker that has taken the trouble to travel my country as well as Canada. That is not at all how I see things. I have to constantly remind people who b**ch and moan about George W. Bush and the Tea Party that we're a huge country that is materially different north and west of the Tappan Zee and George Washington Bridge and east of the San Fransisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Bugs wrote:

Well, Canada is one more of those places in the hinterland. A different kind of Southerner, put it that way. (I pick the south because I like it a lot.) Except that the New Yorker's contempt for the south is inverted when it comes to Canada, probably because we opted for a welfare state back in Trudeau's time. New Yorkers like that, think of it as 'enlightened'.
See above comment.
Bugs wrote:

To back up my claim, consider this. The hottest 'nationalists' in Canada, outside of Quebec, are the left, the members of the NDP and the fringes beyond. If you get them in a discussion, the anti-Americanism just pours out of them. Pours.
Torontonians aren't any better.

Bugs wrote:
But you know where they get it? From American professors on campuses, and American websites, etc. It's something they feel they have to teach us. In fact, they are parroting the line of the American left, and they yearn for draft cards to burn. When America started down the path of 'affirmative action', the Canadian left forced us down the same path -- even though we had no 'black problem'. That's how nuts it is.
Even though they live inthe U.S. they're anti-American idiots as well.

Bugs wrote:
I think if you were from Indianapolis, or Chicago, or Cleveland, you'd be more likely to understand what I am saying. New York is not really a part of America, is it? It's better than that, and it seems to me that it stands in judgement of America. You want Canada to be better than that too. And it isn't.
Ever been to Times Squqre? Fully of mid-American tourists.

Bugs wrote:
I wish I could show you the Canada I know, a place where the losers in all the world struggles of the 20th century come when the barbed wire starts going up ... and somehow, make more of themselves than they ever could have back in Poland, or Holland, or the Ukraine, or Italy ...
Next time I'm up there I will.
Bugs wrote:
Tell me where I am hitting and where I'm missing.


And those are your hits and misses.
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Some of My Past Life, and My Interest in Canada

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